Opera star Lesley Garrett reckons her 60s are the most wonderful decade – a decade of endless opportunity.
The particular opportunity at the moment is her first play (albeit one with plenty of singing demands) – The Messiah.
A three-hander which sees her share the stage with Hugh Dennis and John Marquez, it sees Lesley make her Chichester Festival Theatre debut. Written and directed by Patrick Barlow, it runs from November 12-17.
A travelling theatre troupe of two actors and an opera singer arrive to enact the greatest story ever told. Join the absurdly talented Maurice Rose (Dennis), the alarmingly unpredictable Ronald Bream (Marquez) and the distinguished diva Mrs Leonora Fflyte (Garrett), in an hilarious Christmas comedy that conjures up the sublime, the ridiculous and the truly angelic.
“I think I had been looking for a play to do unconsciously,” Lesley says. “This is a wonderful time of my life at the moment. I feel I haven’t got anything to prove any more. I just want to take on new projects that fascinate me and that teach me something. And it is just such great fun.
“I first saw this play in 1983 when it was first written by Patrick. We didn’t know each other, but we were both living on the same street in Kilburn, and the show was put on in Kilburn. He premiered it there and I saw it and I just remembered it as being so funny even 35 years later. When he asked me if I was interested in playing the part of the opera singer, we were both just so thrilled to find each other after all these years.
“The part is meant to be done by an amateur singer, but he has adapted it for me… just in the way that Handel used to adapt The Messiah for the forces that he had available.
“It is a three-hander, and you have got Maurice and Ronald who have set up their amateur dramatic company consisting of two people. Maurice has presented a version of the Nativity story to be presented at Christmas, and in order to give the performance a bit more professional clout, they have employed Mrs Leonora Fflyte.
“She is a soprano who has had a great deal of experience in her career and is towards the mature end of her career now. In her time, she has sung many, many Messiahs so she thinks what on earth can possibly go wrong! She is trying to bring her professionalism to it, but she is being seriously undermined by the antics of these two who keep going off script and indulging their own personal relationship. Mrs Fflyte sits there with a face like thunder!
“But she is very game and takes part in various dance movements and dance passages that Maurice has choreographed, and she even has some lines as well. She has to rescue the show when Ronald runs off stage in a fit of claustrophobia induced by Maurice.
“She does a bit of La Boheme and there are lots of bits of The Messiah for me to sing which illustrates the text and supports the drama. It is great. I have never been in a show where the public has laughed so much in my life!
“In fact, I have never been in a play before, and that’s partly why I wanted to do it. There is no music director, and Patrick very kindly said that he wanted a bit more music than he usually has, to make better use of me.
“I suppose I am the music director in a way! We have had lots of fun together finding the right passages that worked.”
Tickets from Chichester Festival Theatre.